By Melanie Hauser, PGATOUR.COM Correspondent
THE WOODLANDS, Texas -- Call it the photo of the day. Digital gold.
A moment that -- in one frame -- captured the essence of an amazing friendship, two inextricably entwined Hall of Fame careers and a sun-splashed, entertaining afternoon to remember.
Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, arms thrown around each other, as they walked to the third green at the Tournament Course at The Woodlands Country Club Saturday. The best player of a generation or two – arguably the best ever to play the game -- and the man who brought golf from black-and-white to Technicolor, laughing and joking and making memories for yet another generation.
Their tee shots were high and dry on the course’s first par 3. Playing partner Gary Player wasn’t as lucky. His dove into the water. But none of that really mattered.
What did? That three of the game’s greatest players were together again, playing in the 3M Oil and Gas Greats of Golf scramble at the Insperity Championship.
This was a day for the huge crowds to look back, not forward. A day to ooh and aah over shots that started way left or right, but took wild curves or perfect bounces and –- eventually –- found the edges of the short rough. A day when a simple little putt seemed as intriguing and exciting to watch as a similar one from decades ago that won a major.
The camera phones were out en masse. At every tee, at every shot. A chance to see -- and snap a screensaver -- of one of the legends of the game.
The Big Three – Nicklaus, Palmer and Player -- won the event the year before, with Palmer sinking a 20-foot putt on the final hole. And, yes, the crowd went wild. This year, they knew they probably weren’t going to be as lucky.
They were right.
With 66-year-old Johnny Miller striping it and getting 30 yards-plus on them off the tee, with 71-year-old Dave Stockton, Sr., dropping putts and 68-year-old Tony Jacklin adding some smooth wedges, the kids won this scramble going away. Miller-Stockton-Jacklin had 11 under; Nicklaus-Palmer-Player (ages 72, 83 and 77, respectively) four back at 7 under.
“You’ve got to have some length in your group and we didn’t,’’ said Nicklaus. “We had enough looks at putts, but we didn’t make them.’’
But boy did they have fun. So did everyone else scrambling to watch them and the other teams – a dozen total legends, eight of them already in the World Golf Hall of Fame.
Lee Trevino, who teamed with David Graham and Raymond Floyd to finish third at 6 under, was his usual wisecracking self.
The day hadn’t even started when he brought up Palmer’s winning putt last year, which grew to 25 feet to start the conversation and went to 30 feet in the next sentence. “All these people were here, all of the players came out of the clubhouse to watch this and I said I would give $100 if he made it and damn if he didn’t hole it.’’
Trevino never paid up. “I was lying,’’ he grinned.
From there, he rolled into a tale of a picture of him winning the 1968 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. It seems President Barack Obama sent him a photo of that moment for him to sign.
“He had me sign it so he could give it to the President of Mexico,’’ Trevino said. “You know you’ve arrived when the President sends you a picture to sign.’’
Vintage Trevino. And vintage Miller, who, before teeing off, swore he had no advantage; that his job as an NBC announcer meant he could only play about 100 rounds a year.
Enter Trevino, who reminded everyone Miller, who is known for his tough comments on air, could walk into this locker room and not get blind-sided. “We were all retired when he went into the booth,’’ Trevino chuckled.
Yes, Trevino got roars –- especially on the first tee where he joked about not playing into the wind and asked where to hit it –- and Miller and company got the trophies, but it was Nicklaus, Palmer and Player who had everyone’s attention.
Two boys about 10 or so were running down the path trying to catch up to Palmer. They couldn’t have picked the leaders out of a lineup, but they knew the man in the pink shirt. The one with the gleam in his eye and a quick thumbs up to the fans as he drove his golf cart to the 10th tee.
“Mr. Palmer,’’ they said as they ran by. “We’ve got to catch up to Mr. Palmer.’’
Thirty seconds later, Nicklaus drove through, munching on a little Texas barbecue he grabbed as he made the turn. He winked. The cameras clicked.
Nicklaus even drew a laugh on the first tee. After a long, impressive introduction and a thunderous applause, he stepped to the tee and smiled.
“You’ll be disappointed,’’ he said. “Oh well.’’
Then he grinned and striped it down the fairway.
And they were off with a crowd in tow.
An hour before he had talked about playing with Palmer and Player at the Par-3 Tournament at the Masters; about getting together and enjoying each other and the day, even if the golf sometimes got in the way.
“Last year, we had a blast,’’ he said. “That’s why I came back this year.
“How many more times will we be playing together? We don’t know.’’
Palmer nodded. He’s slowing down, which you do at 83. He retired from competitive golf after the first round of this event in 2006. He hinted that even a scramble is getting tough.
The gallery was still snapping photos and hoping for autographs as he drove his golf cart toward the clubhouse.
Next year. “I don’t know about that,’’ he said. “At my age, next year is a long way off.’’
But another chance to play with Nicklaus and Player? Another digital gold moment -- as the photographers call it? Another chance to give back to the game he’s loved and nurtured for so long?
Another chance to throw his arm around Nicklaus and laugh?
Simply priceless. And something no one wants to see him pass up.